Ginn, Nicol Make Unlikely Plays In OSU Win

It was definitely an unusual day for the Ohio State offense on Saturday. Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. caught his 13th career touchdown pass. But Ginn also threw his first career touchdown pass. Tight end Rory Nicol, with just seven catches on the year coming in, caught a pair of TD passes and backup Jake Ballard also got into the end zone as well.

It was an odd combination, indeed, with Ted Ginn Jr. throwing a 38-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rory Nicol early in the third quarter of Ohio State's 44-3 pasting of Indiana Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

You had Ginn, Ohio State's leading receiver, taking an end around lateral from star quarterback Troy Smith and throwing the ball deep to Nicol, who only had seven catches on the year coming into the game.

But, with the Buckeyes comfortably ahead of Indiana from the first play of the second quarter on, it was that kind of day for the OSU offense.

Smith, of course, continued his torrid pace and showed why some consider him to be the early front runner for the Heisman Trophy as he threw for 220 yards and matched his career-high with four touchdowns.

But the day was marked as well by the play of Ginn, who caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Smith in OSU's 21-point second quarter, before later throwing one to Nicol.

Besides the touchdown catch from Ginn, it was Nicol who got OSU on the board first with a 23-yard touchdown strike from Smith.

And, for good measure, it was freshman tight end Jake Ballard who made a nifty diving grab of a 5-yard Smith touchdown strike. That play – also Ballard's first career catch -- staked the Buckeyes to a 28-3 halftime advantage.

Nobody could recall a day in recent years when OSU's tight ends combined for three touchdowns in a single game.

"We said all along that we hope we throw it to the guy that's open and, you know, Rory got open and Ballard's catch, holy smokes, I mean that was pretty darn good, too," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "And we're an equal opportunity employer. We'll throw it to whoever's open and that's what the quarterbacks are asked to do."

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman confirmed that there was not a concerted effort to involve the tight ends (finally) with this game.

"They were some unique calls, but it wasn't like any of that stuff was planned ahead of time," he said. "It was just that those guys came up at some opportune times and were able to make some plays."

Nicol finished with two touchdown grabs for 61 yards. He was asked if it was his best day as a Buckeye.

"Yeah, I would say so," Nicol said. "It felt great. It felt like I was in high school again. I actually said at dinner last night to Coach Pete (tight ends coach John Peterson) that ‘I feel really good about this week. We could have a great day.' I had a feeling. I don't know why I had it, but I had it.

"This week, we thought we had some chances to beat them explosively. Their secondary is a little young. We ran some of them and they were successful."

After sitting out last year with an injury, Nicol moved into the starting tight end role this year. Admittedly, he would like to see more passes come his way. But with as many play makers as the Buckeyes have, he knows he has to bide his time.

"I feel like I do a good job in the receiving game when they ask me to," Nicol said. "I work hard at it. Sometimes your number is just not called. It can be frustrating, but I can't let it frustrate me. We're winning. We're 8-0 now. The guys outside of me are so explosive. Things might change over time. But for now, this is what our offense is. It's working. Why change it?"

Nicol's First TD Grab

Indiana had taken a 3-0 lead to open the game. But the Buckeyes had driven down to the Indiana 23-yard line and faced a third-and-1 predicament. Smith executed a play fake and threw to a wide open Nicol down the seam. Nobody was around and he rolled easily into the end zone for the score and a 7-0 lead with 2:55 left in the first quarter.

"That one was a fake iso on a third down," Bollman said. "That is a good time to run that. We made up our mind there that if we did not get it, we could also go for it on fourth down. That was a good situation to use him."

Nicol simply released on the play and was left wide open as the Hoosiers stacked against the run.

Nicol was asked what he thought when the ball was in the air.

"Catch the ball," he said with a smile. "You just look at it and it's floating for days. You're butt naked running down the seam. You just have to catch it."

Ginn Gets In, Too

On the first play of the second quarter, OSU found itself at the IU 31. Ginn rolled left and was almost immediately under siege from an IU defender. He continued to his left before he backpedaled and set his feet. That allowed him to make a heave to the end zone, where Ginn had broken free in front of IU's Tracy Porter. The 31-yard touchdown catch – Ginn's 13th of his career – helped OSU take a 14-3 advantage.

"One thing about Troy is he tells us, ‘When I'm scrambling, man, just go deep,' " Ginn said. "I ran a good stick route. I thought I was open there. I think he got some pressure that flushed him out. Instead of coming back, I just turned my head and ran. He saw me and he threw it."

Tressel credited Smith for breaking contain and keeping the play alive.

"I think anytime you break contain, you step up and get outside of the defense, just like their guys did, it's frightening," Tressel said. "He got outside the edge of their defense two or three times and was able to hurt them a little bit. So you know, big things can happen if you step up and remain alive."

Ballard Gets Into The Act

In recent weeks, Ballard had seen more action along with Nicol in two-tight end sets. But he still had not seen the ball. That changed on Saturday when, on first-and-goal at the 1, OSU went to its Jumbo look. But instead of handing off to tailback Chris Wells, Smith faked the give and looked for Ballard on a crossing route.

The freshman made a diving grab of the pass to put the Buckeyes up 28-3 with just 20 seconds left in the half.

"That was just a standard goal line play out of our heavy personnel," Bollman said. "Jake made a great catch."

Ballard said it was a thrill to have his first career catch go for a touchdown.

"It's awesome," he said. "Troy puts the ball on the money every time. I'm fortunate to have a quarterback like Troy. I was just waiting for my first catch. I for sure didn't think it would be a touchdown and certainly not a diving touchdown. I was pretty excited."

Ballard hopes he can parlay a big catch like that one into more playing time.

"If I make some plays early, that means I should be able to get on the field more," he said. "That's my goal, to get on the field some more. If they give me a chance, I don't want to waste that chance. I just try to come out and make plays."

Nicol – who also had a touchdown on his first career catch against Iowa in 2004 -- was glad to see Ballard get into the scoring column.

"Jake is a great player," Nicol said. "Jake works hard. I was more excited for him than he was. He made a great play. That's exciting for us as a group. Jake made a great catch on that play. That's just a short-yardage play that we've had since I've been here."

Getting Tricky

A week ago at Michigan State, OSU tried a reverse pass with Ginn but his receiver was covered and he dumped the ball off instead to Nicol, whose main assignment on the play was to block. The pass fell incomplete.

That would not be the case this time as Ginn and Nicol hooked up for the 38-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 35-3 with 9:04 left in the third quarter.

"That was a little trickery," Nicol said. "Last week, I was supposed to be blocking. I don't even know if anybody else is even in that route except me. From what I understand, that ball comes to me.

"You look for that safety to bite down on the run and all of a sudden I see that linebacker running with me. Something happened to him. I guess he fell. I don't know. I was shocked he was covering me to begin with. Teddy made a good throw and it worked out for us."

Ginn, who started one season at Cleveland Glenville as a quarterback, looked and sounded the part as a signalcaller.

"I just believed in my tight end," Ginn said with a smile. "I just had to give him a good ball and not overthrow him. I tried to put it in the right spot, like Troy would do it."

Ginn said when it comes time to be a thrower, he tries to emulate his friend Smith.

"I look at Troy," he said. "He stands back in the pocket and has patience and throws the rock. I just want to do what he does. We put in a lot of things in our package with some reverses. It will be good to also try and throw off of it."

But Smith said he and Ginn have had a budding rivalry as throwers since their childhood.

"Throughout practice, we always work on design plays, and then we come up with trick plays and things like that, and we had been practicing and practicing and practicing, watching duck after duck after duck," Smith said with a smile. "Today, after I carried out the fake and I turned around and saw a perfect spiral.

"Ted always says that if he gets a chance, he's going to throw a touchdown, because we have an ongoing feud, way back in high school, way back in little league football, as far as him being the opposing quarterback and myself on the other side. But the offensive line did a great job. You had to block for at least two or three seconds, even longer, hold your block even longer for him to get around there. And Rory Nicol made a great play on the ball.

"Special people in special places, they do special things."

Ginn was asked who won those early battles.

"Back then, I would say Troy," Ginn said. "They threw the ball more where he was from. On my side, we were more of a run team."

Ginn was happy to get the chance to complete such a big pass.

"We put it in and we finally got a chance to do it," he said. "We executed it very well. I was a quarterback. I do know how to put my hands on the strings and let it go. For Rory to take that responsibility and get in front of the ball, that was great."

Nicol added: "Teddy was a high school quarterback. We have a lot of plays where Teddy can throw the rock. He's a great athlete."

Including his touchdown against Indiana, Ginn has now scored 21 career touchdowns (13 catches, a Big Ten-career record six punt returns, one run and one kick return). But he said the throw left him with an even better feeling than any of his previous scores.

"I think it's more exciting than a punt return or catching a deep ball," he said.

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